HOUSTON — Houston has become a firearms marketplace for Mexican drug cartels, according to federal law enforcement officials.
Gangsters have spent millions in Texas on military-style weapons and ammunition that are being used in the cartels' ongoing clashes with Mexican police, government and citizens. Houston has emerged as a buyers' haven.
"Our investigations show Houston is the top source for firearms going into Mexico, top source in the country," said J. Dewey Webb, special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Houston division, in a story Sunday in the Houston Chronicle.
Mexican gangsters have chosen Houston because of its numerous gun shops, its proximity to the border and its long-established networks for smuggling narcotics into the United States, the ATF says.
Authorities say numerous crimes, including a 2007 Acapulco massacre that left four police officers and three secretaries dead, illustrate the carnage brought on by Houston-bought guns that have gotten into the hands of ruthless killers.
ATF is targeting at least three Houston groups it contends supply weapons to the Gulf Cartel, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
Since 2007, when the investigation was launched after an audit of a gun store's sales records, agents working with Mexican counterparts have traced at least 328 Houston-bought firearms to those groups.
Andrew Molchan, director of the Professional Gun Retailers Association, said members are aware fraudulent buyers are out there and are encouraged to ask more questions than the law requires to evaluate customers.
"Regardless of the business - banks, doctors or whatever - if somebody starts to commit fraud it's very difficult for any business or retailer to combat that," he said.
More than 4,000 people have died in Mexico's criminal underworld violence this year.
Mexican officials estimate 90 percent of nearly 27,000 weapons seized from stash houses or recovered from crime scenes in the past two years originated in the United States.
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Mexico's weapons laws are stricter than those in the United States, making it difficult for civilians to purchase guns and ammunition.